Common Ignorance and Uncommon Decency


Another disability-related media story has gone viral.

Everyone seems to love inspiring stories about uncommon decency, whether they happened thirty years ago or this month.  I hope you enjoy this one.

–Jay Ruderman

Common Ignorance and Uncommon Decency

By Jo Ann Simons, Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO, the Cardinal Cushing Centers

The recent story of the Houston waiter who stood up for his beliefs– and for his young guest– has been featured on local television, national networks, the internet, and Facebook. It seems to have struck a chord for thousands of people.

The story is that the waiter, Michael Garcia, seated two groups of regular steakhouse customers across from each other. Suddenly one group moved to a different part of the restaurant; he didn’t think anything of it. The group that remained was a local family, the Castillos. Their family includes a beautiful five-year-old boy, Milo, who happens to have Down syndrome.

Michael’s values become evident when he heard a member of the first group say, “Special needs children need to be special somewhere else.”  He told the man, “I am sorry, I can’t serve you.”

This wasn’t a reality TV program where a secret camera is filming people being rude, ignorant or stupid so we can test onlookers’ reactions. This was real life.  This was a family out for dinner in a public restaurant being subjected to the kind of humiliation and rejection that I thought was long over.

It brought me back to another time, over 30 years ago, when my handsome son with Down syndrome was playing at the beach: a happy three-year-old digging holes and making sandcastles alongside another local three-year-old. After about ten minutes of side-by-side play, the grandmother of the other young boy came by– a woman whose name I knew– and I was stunned by her shocked and disgusted expression. But I knew that where I saw love, happiness and joy, she saw something else. She grabbed her grandson quickly by the hand and without a word led him far away from Jonathan. She found another playmate for him on another part of the beach.

Well, I didn’t have a Michael Garcia– but I had my mother, Elaine Simons. I told her the story that night and the names of the boy and his grandmother. A month later my mother told me she saw the grandmother when she was with Jonathan at the country club where both women were members.

My mom marched up to this woman and with pride and affection said, “I don’t think you have met MY grandson, Jonathan. Jonathan, this is Mrs. Roberts.”  She walked away, and with that taught me never to accept less than complete respect for my child.

Milo Castillo and Jonathan Derr.  Michael Garcia and Elaine Simons. Thanks to you– and so many others like you– we are finally learning that people with disabilities belong on the beach, in the steakhouse, and everywhere in between.



Filed under Down syndrome, In the Media, perceptions of disability

3 responses to “Common Ignorance and Uncommon Decency

  1. Marc Slotnick, President, New England Communities, Inc.

    Last year my firm and Beth Israel Senior Citizens Housing, Inc., of which Mort Ruderman of blessed memory was a Past President, proposed converting an existing rooming house in Malden MA to a single room occupancy independent living property for 12 adults with cognitive disabilities. Each unit would recieve a project based Section 8 rental voucher, already approved by the Housing Authoority.
    Several condominum owners from the building next door objected. I was stunned when one said that she did not want her 2 year old “looking at those people.”. Fortunately clearer heads previailed and after a postponement. the Board approved the plan unanimously.

  2. sarah

    Thank you for sharing these stories–I had thought this kind of bigotry and ignorance was a thing of the past, but clearly it is alive and well. Bravo for those brave souls who speak up against it!

  3. Paula Johnson

    Beautifully written Jo Ann – thank you for sharing your story!

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